View Bill Gates’ Mobile Library: The Books & Courses That Help Him Change The World

Step­ping down as Microsoft’s chief exec­u­tive offi­cer in 2000 had giv­en Bill Gates some extra time, which the auto­di­dact imme­di­ate­ly expend­ed by attempt­ing to learn… well, every­thing. Per­haps Gates threw him­self at learn­ing to make up for aban­don­ing col­lege for greater pursuits—he attend­ed Har­vard but left after two years’ study to pur­sue his pas­sion for com­put­ers. What­ev­er his rea­sons, Gates has begun to assid­u­ous­ly learn all he can about the world, and is record­ing his edu­ca­tion process for pos­ter­i­ty on his web­site, The Gates Notes. As the video above explains, Microsoft’s founder has lis­tened to hun­dreds of hours of uni­ver­si­ty lec­tures from The Teach­ing Com­pa­ny; he got hooked after lis­ten­ing to Robert Whap­les’ Mod­ern Eco­nom­ic Issues and breez­ing through Tim­o­thy Tay­lor’s Amer­i­ca and the New Glob­al Econ­o­my. His num­ber one pick? Big His­to­ry which is taught by David Chris­t­ian and, Gates says, “is still my favorite course of all. The course is so broad that it syn­the­sizes the his­to­ry of every­thing includ­ing the sci­ences into one frame­work.”

Wher­ev­er Gates trav­els, he is also eter­nal­ly accom­pa­nied by his read­ing bag. Sur­prised that the her­ald of the dig­i­tal age is pack­ing paper­backs? Don’t be. “I’m still pret­ty much an old-school print guy,” Gates writes, “because I like to jot notes in the mar­gins, but I assume I’ll move over to ebooks when anno­ta­tion fea­tures get bet­ter.”

Last week, Gates showed WIRED the con­tents of his decid­ed­ly 20th cen­tu­ry mobile library. The books, which Gates replen­ish­es at an impres­sive rate, encom­pass an admirable breadth of top­ics. As befit­ting the over­seer of the Bill and Melin­da Gates Foun­da­tion, the major­i­ty of Gates’ read­ing con­sists of non-fic­tion (only Gary Shteyn­gart’s recent nov­el made the fic­tion cut this round). His­to­ry, psy­chol­o­gy, sci­ence, sound busi­ness coun­sel, soci­ol­o­gy, eco­nom­ics, and his­to­ry all make up the dizzy­ing array of Gates’ every­day read­ing. Here is a selec­tion from WIRED’s par­tial list, includ­ing Gates’ own com­ments on the impor­tance of each choice:

-Feynman’s Tips on Physics by Richard Feyn­man– A short com­pan­ion book to Richard Feynman’s clas­sic Lec­tures on Physics. Always worth­while to return to the feet of the mas­ter.

-Super Sad True Love Sto­ry: A Nov­el by Gary Shteyn­gart– I don’t read a lot of fic­tion, but I thought this was an inter­est­ing study of the moral impli­ca­tions of tech­nol­o­gy. Will tech­nol­o­gy con­tribute to everyone’s well-being or just make peo­ple more nar­cis­sis­tic?

-The Car­toon Intro­duc­tion to Sta­tis­tics by Grady Klein– Bought this to use with one of my kids. Help­ful in explain­ing a com­pli­cat­ed sub­ject to a teenag­er.

-The Path Between the Seas: The Cre­ation of the Pana­ma Canal by David McCul­lough – I read this to pre­pare for a fam­i­ly vaca­tion to Pana­ma. It’s pure McCul­lough: epic dra­ma, polit­i­cal intrigue, heart­break­ing defeats, and even­tu­al tri­umph.

-The Bet­ter Angels of Our Nature: Why Vio­lence Has Declined by Steven Pinker– One of the most impor­tant books I’ve read. Steven Pinker demon­strates how the world evolved to be far less vio­lent. Coun­ter­in­tu­itive, if you watch the news, but true.

We’ve also used the trusty Con­trol + Scroll func­tion to zoom in and name a few addi­tion­al titles:

An Uncer­tain Glo­ry: India and its Con­tra­dic­tions by Jean Drèze and Amartya Sen

Engi­neers of Vic­to­ry: The Prob­lem Solvers Who Turned The Tide in The Sec­ond World War by Paul Kennedy

The Price of Inequal­i­ty: How Today’s Divid­ed Soci­ety Endan­gers Our Future by Joseph Stiglitz

Why Does Col­lege Cost So Much? By Robert Archibald and David Feld­man

Mon­do Agnel­li: Fiat, Chrysler, and the Pow­er of a Dynasty by Jen­nifer Clark

How Chil­dren Suc­ceed: Grit, Curios­i­ty, and the Hid­den Pow­er of Char­ac­ter by Paul Tough

The One World School­house: Edu­ca­tion Reimag­ined by Salman Khan

Far From The Tree by Andrew Solomon

For the orig­i­nal list, head over to WIRED. For more of Gates’ com­men­tary, check out his site, The Gates Notes, here. You can also con­tin­ue your self-edu­ca­tion by vis­it­ing our lists of Free Online Cours­es, Free eBooks, Free Audio Books, Free Lan­guage Lessons, Free Text­books, and Free MOOCs.

Ilia Blin­d­er­man is a Mon­tre­al-based cul­ture and sci­ence writer. Fol­low him at @iliablinderman.

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